What does "organic" really mean? A standard that defines what qualifies as organic was established by the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, because there was a lot of confusion. It means food with no artificial fertilizers (the ones made with sewage sludge), genetic modification, irradiation (a process that reduces spoilage and kills bacteria and pests), or conventional pesticides. Livestock raised organically must be fed organic feed, can't be given antibiotics or growth hormones, and have access to the outdoors, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
What are the benefits for buying food labeled "organic"? Eating organic foods can reduce the amount of pesticides and chemicals that non-organic foods may get into your body. You are also reducing your exposure to antibiotics, genetically modified crops, hormones, and irradiated foods. Still, the long-term health effects aren't clear.
So why exactly do "organic" foods so much more? Organic fruits and vegetables can cost up to about 30 percent more than regular produce. One reason is that organic farms are usually smaller than conventional farms, yielding less even as demand for their crops is high. Controlling pests and weeds without using artificial pesticides is more labor-intensive, harder, and more expensive than using most pesticides. Also, organic feed for livestock is more expensive.
"Natural" vs. "Organic": What's the difference? (Getty Images)
Does being "organic" mean the food is safer and healthier? The USDA doesn't officially offer any opinion about whether organic food is safer or more nutritious than non-organic food. It only says that organic standards have been met. This includes the companies that handle or process the foods before they get to the supermarket. That said, organic foods have lower levels of artificial pesticides, are not genetically modified, don't have artificial hormones, and reduce your exposure to antibiotics. On the other hand, the EPA regulates pesticides in foods. Strict standards must be met. As for being healthier, some studies have found that organically grown oranges have more vitamin C and possibly iron and magnesium. Organic milk has been found to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. More research needs to be done on this. One thing to keep in mind is that organicpotato chips are still junk food. Being organic doesn't mean you can load up on them.
Is it really that important to buy foods closer to where they originate? It is better to buy it locally, because nutrients start getting depleted in food as soon as it's harvested. The further organic food has to be transported, the more nutrients that are lost.